January 05, 2010

Isn’t charity the best? The Season of Giving just finished giving itself to us and every year the message becomes clearer and clearer: Charity is the best feeling in the world.

What charity you ask? Who cares? It’s all about giving. All people need to say is, “He gave it to charity” and our heart swells with smiles. Where the money goes is irrelevant, apparently. If you’re walking around New York and you see those guys with the giant water cooler containers that say UHO on the side, throw a coin in. Sure it recently came out that the owner was just letting the guy keep all the money after taking a $25 fee, but that’s neither here nor there. Charity is about giving. Who receives it is none of our business.

A few years ago, I decided to start a Christmas family tradition of going to the Bowery Mission and serving food to the homeless. My wife and our infant daughter arrived early Christmas afternoon to see about a dozen homeless people voluntarily smoking like chimneys outside in the cold. I had my family wait in the lobby and went towards the kitchen to ask where our help would be most effective. Maybe we could schlop out some mashed potatoes as our daughter watched from a booster seat and learned the true meaning of Christmas. In the dining area, I walked past about five non-smokers watching the original Black Christmas (the scariest movie I have ever seen in my life). When I got to the kitchen, I met at least 20 volunteers manning three industrial ovens that contained tray upon tray of roasted potatoes, three turkeys, plenty of vegetables, and more brussels sprouts than there are homeless people in Manhattan. The man in the apron regretted to inform me there is actually a waiting list for volunteers and the only way I was going to get to help out was to sign up for next Christmas, like, today.

Far from the Bowery, carving the Christmas goose.

Then it hit me. What am I doing? We’d like to think of the homeless as average Joes down on their luck but the vast majority of them are average Joes completely out of their fucking minds. Just up the road from the Mission you had the seminal punk club CBGBs where bouncers always carried tazers when asking the homeless to move because you never know how a bum is going to react. A few blocks from there you had George Drescher who was stabbed in the brain (through his eye) and killed after questioning a bum who was rooting through the garbage. I put my family in jeopardy in order to fulfill some ABC prime time notion of the spirit of Christmas because I wanted to feel good about myself. How idiotic.

Since then I’ve spent every Christmas serving food to my own family, at home, and trying to make each holiday as memorable as possible for the kids (another one came out since the daughter was on the Bowery). I still reach out occasionally. Some friends of mine recently asked to help them with Movember, a prostate cancer charity wherein participants get their facial hair sponsored to help the cause. These charities usually manage to raise about $10,000 per group and this year I was about $50 of that. Unfortunately, cancer research is the last of the big spenders and $10,000 is 0.0002% of the five billion dollars cancer research needs to get through the year. “Raising Awareness” is the go-to reason for ignoring the numbers but let’s face it, you’d have to be dead not to know about cancer at this point. Marathons and marches are a great way to raise morale and form a sense of community but they don’t help fight cancer.

My lawyer asked me to sponsor him for the 100 Mile Man Foundation. I put in $200 but only because my lawyer’s been very good to me in the past and I wanted to say thanks. The charity helps underprivileged kids go to community colleges and get a degree. Sounds good but do hardworking poor kids really need help getting into community college? If a kid wins a private scholarship at Manhattan’s Baruch College for example, he’s looking at about $4,000 for tuition and then $4,000 in Financial Aid. That’s $4k profit. Kids are now being paid to go to school. What is this, England? Even if he doesn’t get a private scholarship, the Financial Aid for a poor kid with pretty good marks is almost impossible not to get. In short, if you’re poor in New York and you work hard, school is free.

I’m sure there are some great New York charities. I always hear about them. While interviewing Susan Sarandon, I learned she is a huge proponent of City Harvest, a group that takes excess food from restaurants and donates it to New York City’s homeless. That sounds like a great idea. There’s also New York Cares, which donates coats to the homeless. We performed at a benefit for them that raised over $10,000. I never looked into where the money went. Neither would you. We don’t care THAT much. So, if you’re not doing the math or looking into where you’re money’s going, let’s just call a spade a spade and admit you’re going to the Bowery Mission to feel good about yourself. Actually, try to be a little more cautious about what colloquialisms you use. You don’t want to get stabbed.


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